What is dementia? Part 3

screen-shot-2016-09-17-at-1-39-03-pmIn my continuing series on What is dementia?, for part 3, I am explaining in more detail, the two infographics published earlier this month.Please do let me know if I have any information incorrect! I am doing my best to ensure it is both accurate and easily understood by those of us living with or supporting someone with dementia. They are not meant to be necessarily for medical or nursing students, although they ay be helpful to them.

Many people ask is Alzheimer’s Disease dementia.

Many who have been diagnosed with dementia are told their dementia is FTD or PPA.

I often hear clinical experts and researchers say, ‘Alzheimer’s or dementia’, also implying that Alzheimer’s is not dementia.

Dementia in many countries is looked after in the mental health ‘basket’, thereby also implying dementia is a mental illness, which it is not. personally, I believe that people with dementia should be cared for under the medical category of neurological disorders, to dispel that myth, and to remove the added stigma that comes with mental illness. Dementia has quite enough of its own stigma!

The word dementia is an umbrella term for more than 100 types or causes of dementia, and it is probably more correct to say dementia is a syndrome, most often characterised by the death of brain cells in different areas of the brain. It describes a group of symptoms. For example, when someone says they have been diagnosed with cancer, we all ask, ‘what type of cancer?’. Similarly when someone purchases a new car, we usually ask, ‘what type of car did you buy?’ If they say a Mazda/Mercedes/Toyota/etc – we then ask, ‘oh, which type of Mazda?’, and if we sent someone to the shops for us and asked them to buy us some fruit, we would want to know what type of fruit, and if they said apples, we’d likely also ask which type of apples.

That may sound a bit complicated, but it is exactly how the word dementia works, as do the sub categories of the different types of dementia. There are many types of Alzheimer’s disease, and there are a few types or sum categories of FTD (Fronto temporal dementia (also known as fronto temporal disorders), and so on. Also, not all categories of dementia have different types, and some in the same sub group may have come from a different cause.

Dementia could also be referred to as a neurological disorder, but it is 100% not a mental illness, even though many countries include the care of people with dementia in their mental health services. Some people with dementia may have mental illness.

The various symptoms of dementia can be found in many of the different types or causes of dementia. There has to be at least two levels of cognitive deficits present, and they must be interfering with a person’s ability to perform activities of daily living or to perform adequately in their place of work.

Everyone experiences dementia in his or her own way. Different types of dementia can also affect people differently. However, there are some common symptoms that are listed below. As you can see, it is not all  about memory loss!

Memory loss:

  • Problems recalling things that happened recently (they may easily remember things from a long time ago)
  • Repeating things (such as asking the same question over and over)

Difficulty thinking things through and planning:

  • Problems concentrating, following a series of steps, grasping new ideas or solving problems
  • Struggling with familiar daily tasks, such as following a recipe or using a debit or credit card

Problems communicating:

  • Difficulty finding the right word
  • Struggling to follow a conversation or misinterpreting things

Being confused about time or place:

  • Losing track of what time, date or season it is
  • Not knowing where they are, even in familiar places

Sight and visual difficulties:

  • Difficulty judging distances (e.g on stairs)
  • Misinterpreting patterns or reflections in mirrors

Mood changes or difficulties controlling emotions:

  • Becoming unusually sad, frightened, angry or easily upset
  • Losing interest in things and becoming withdrawn
  • Lacking self-confidence

For my next blog in this series, I will talk about Aphasia (Part 4), and then in in Part 5, I’ll consider the possibility that you may have symptoms of dementia or cognitive changes, but that it may not be a dementia. To say dementia is complicated is definitely an understatement!

 

 

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